Suspect allegedly involved in pursuit that ended in Virgin River Gorge rescue arrested in Santa Clara

Stock image | St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The woman found on the side of Interstate 15 in Mohave County last week who authorities learned was involved in a police pursuit in Utah days before has been arrested and is currently in custody in Washington County.

An incident involving two states, multiple agencies and an extensive search that lasted for more than three days was set in motion after a vehicle continued west on Old Highway 91 following a pursuit that was terminated by the pursuing officer shortly after it began in Ivins Aug. 23.

Unbeknownst to the officer, there were two occupants in the car as it headed west. The driver eventually exited Highway 91 and abandoned the vehicle after it became stuck near Apex Mine Road several miles southwest of St. George.

Officers in Santa Clara also had no way of knowing that the driver, 37-year-old Sara Dutton, would be rescued in Arizona two days later, while the passenger, Steven Richen, would be found dead near the Val wash less than 3 miles from where the car was abandoned, several days later.

As it turned out, Dutton was identified and arrested early Thursday morning by Santa Clara-Ivins Police officers for an unrelated incident involving a suspicious person report shortly after midnight.

When they arrived, they learned that a woman, later identified as Dutton, had entered the backyard of two residences without permission.

Sara Jane Dutton, of Washington County, booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Sept. 3, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

The homeowner of the first residence told police that video surveillance captured the suspect entering the backyard. In the second incident, there were two witnesses swimming in their pool when they saw the woman enter, according to charging documents filed with the court.

When the officers arrived and approached the woman, “she jumped into the pool,” and later identified herself as Sara Richmond, the officer noted in the report.

When officers were able to accurately identify the woman as Dutton, they informed her that she was being arrested for trespassing. While handcuffing the suspect, she allegedly began to yell and swear at them in front of the residents, and continued even after officers asked her to stop.

While being questioned, Dutton told the officer she had been involved in a pursuit in Ivins just before midnight on Aug. 24, and that she was the driver. Police advised her they had been looking for the woman involved for questioning, but they had yet to positively identify her. She then recounted the series of events that took place during the pursuit, an account that matched the one provided by the officer involved.

Santa Clara-Ivins Police Sgt. Reed Briggs told St. George News they were advised of the rescue and the pursuit that preceded it but had not identified who the driver was at that point, saying they ” just hadn’t put all of the pieces together yet.”

It wasn’t until Dutton brought up the incident during the trespassing call that they were able to connect everything together. The car found abandoned was identified as being the vehicle involved in the pursuit, but since the officer terminated the pursuit before stopping the car, Briggs said, he was unable to identify the driver and wasn’t even aware there was a second occupant at all.

Google Map with pins depicting distance between where a woman was found in Mohave County, Ariz., and a man was found in Washington County, Utah, | Image courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

Instead, the officer watched as the suspect’s vehicle continued west on Old Highway 91.

It would be two more days until Dutton would be heard from again, when she was rescued by troopers and emergency personnel on I-15 near Bridge no. 7 in Arizona. But due to conflicting stories provided by Dutton initially, police in Santa Clara were unaware of the events taking place in the Virgin River Gorge during the rescue, or that she was connected in any way to the car involved in the pursuit.

The passenger, Steven Richens, wouldn’t be found until Friday, when his remains were discovered several miles southwest of Bloomington by a Washington County Search and Rescue team. Investigators believe he died of exposure as nothing found at the scene suggested otherwise, Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nate Abbott told St. George News Friday.

Abbott also said the case remains open pending autopsy results from the medical examiner.

Following Thursday’s incident, Dutton was arrested on the trespassing charge. Officers advised her that she would also face a felony evading charge, along with two misdemeanor charges, including reckless driving and driving on a suspended license, that were submitted to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review. She was also advised of three outstanding misdemeanor warrants that were issued for her arrest.

Dutton was then transported and booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility where she remains on $14,380 bail.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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